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Translating Religion Courses to an Online Format: Introduction - Strategies of Good Translation PDF-NOTE: Internet Explorer Users, right click the PDF Icon and choose [save target as] if you are experiencing problems with clicking. Print

As with any translation, the first step is learning the mechanics of the language and the basic vocabulary. The authors in this Spotlight issue walk us through some of this, explaining some of the basic platforms as well as the mechanics of putting lectures, discussions, videos, and assignments online. However, mechanics and vocabulary are never enough when translating. The grammar and context of a new language or culture will necessitate rearrangements in sentence structure and cultural logic. Erica Hurwitz Andrus, for example, describes a process of not only moving her “Introduction to Religion” course online, but also condensing it — both of which forced her into unique arrangements of the content so that it fit the new format. Marla J. Selvidge also provides advice on film resources, copyright issues, Adobe presenter files, and finding institutional support.

Then there are idioms — those phrases that cannot easily be translated but instead have to be altogether reconceptualized in the new context. Many of our authors rethink the concepts of “lecture” and “discussion” in an online context. In traditional classrooms, despite how we may think of lectures, they too, in addition to discussions, include interactive components and visual cues. John Baumann asks, “How do I know that all the students understand the concepts we are covering?” and “How can I keep the interest of students, or even gauge their interest?” Annie Blazer and Brandi Denison ask how to facilitate discussions that avoid plagiarism or proselytization. For lectures, the authors discuss a number of strategies to decrease passivity among students ranging from segmented lectures (John T. Strong), to short lessons (Sandie Gravett), to written mini-lectures (Andrus), and there is near universality about the need for an interactive component — whether that includes question-sets related to lectures or even having to correctly answer a question before proceeding to the next lesson.

Discussion by far seems to pose the biggest challenges but also provides the most opportunities. Here a consensus seems to emerge regarding focused prompts, structured discussions, and maintaining a regular presence. While there are the aforementioned challenges of plagiarism or proselytization, there are also unique benefits. Students who may not contribute in a traditional classroom discussion do participate online, whether because it is required or because of the safety of anonymity. Andrew T. Arroyo also notes the possibility of a focused Socratic-style dialogue with each individual student in a way that the time constraints of traditional classrooms preclude.

The anonymity relates to a color-blind context of the online format. While Andrus writes that she is fine if she does not see her students and they do not see her, both Strong and Gravett find ways to be visually present to their students and, in the latter case, to have them post visually. Arroyo’s article delves fully into this issue; he emphasizes the importance of allowing for diverse voices that ultimately empower students, and he reminds us that online education does not change the fact that there are still diverse modes of learning, many of which are culturally based. Other authors also note that online education reaches out to students who may otherwise not be able to attend college and can bring in a diverse group of students. We need to be vigilant to make sure that this diversity is not lost in translation.


This website contains archived issues of Religious Studies News published online from March 2010 to May 2013, and PDF versions of print editions published from Winter 2001 to October 2009.

This site also contains archived issues of Spotlight on Teaching (May 1999 to May 2013) and Spotlight on Theological Education (March 2007 to March 2013).

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